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March 11, 2011

“Reflections On The Guitar” by Marcelo Kayath

Here’s an article written by Marcelo Kayath, who in the early 80’s was considered one of the great up-and-coming guitarists of his generation. I find his thoughts on the current state of the guitar really interesting, but I have a feeling that not everyone will agree with him. I’m very curious to see what everyone has to say.


*Disclaimer – Please read first: The text below is merely my personal opinion. My intention is simply to open up debate and prompt a collective reflection on points that are critical to me: our conception of the instrument and the way in which we view music and recent trends in relation to the guitar. I hope the points below serve as a starting point for a constructive and fruitful debate for all. – Marcelo Kayath


We could choose any starting point for our debate, but I find it interesting to start at the end of the 18th century, when the modern guitar was in its early stages and repertoires were beginning to take form. Unfortunately, in this golden age of music, the guitar did not appeal to Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn or Schubert. Instead, we have Sor, Giuliani, Aguado, Carulli and other lesser-known musicians. They were extraordinary musicians and outstanding players, but they were not in the same league as the greatest geniuses of music history. Since there’s no use in trying to change the past, let’s stick to what we have, which luckily is quite a lot.

Even in this initial phase, the issue of the sound of the guitar was already becoming evident. The commentary at the time about Sor’s small recitals was that he had interesting pieces and a great deal of musicality, but that the sound was too dull, typical of those – like Sor – who played without nails. Technically speaking, Giuliani and Aguado were considered the virtuosi, and Sor was held out as the most musical. But despite Aguado and Giuliani’s virtuosity, and Sor’s musicality, the guitar was reserved for salon music, with hardly any use in more “serious” environments. One of the main problems was the instrument’s own sound limitation, since the guitars of the day were a far cry from the projection and volume of the sound of modern guitars. Furthermore, the strings available at the time were much less reliable than modern strings, and it was often challenging for a musician to stay in tune while playing.

In the 19th century, the instrument saw remarkable technical development, as a revolutionary conception of a new guitar was proposed by Antônio de Torres in his workshop in Seville. Other virtuosi – such as Julian Arcas and, shortly thereafter, Francisco Tarrega – also appeared. The modern repertoire began to take shape with the original works of Tarrega and the first transcriptions of Bach, Albeniz, Granados and many others.

Despite this technical development, the debate on the use of nails remained intense at that time. Despite his great musicality and virtuosity, Tarrega played with a “muffled” sound, without nails, hindering his acceptance in a large concert hall. The discouraging panorama prevailed throughout the 19th century, with the guitar relegated to the drawing room, without much technical musical interest.


Despite the dismal outlook, by the outset of the 20th century the seeds of the modern guitar had been sown. There was already a repertoire of classics from the 19th century (Sor, Giuliani, etc.), original compositions (Tarrega and other Spaniards), and a few transcriptions of Tarrega and his disciple Miguel Llobet. Many Spanish luthiers such as Manuel Ramirez and Francisco Simplicio began to build good instruments in the style of Torres. With this backdrop, Andrés Segovia arises. With the death of Tarrega in 1909 (young Segovia appears in a historical photograph near the coffin), Segovia begins his long trajectory, encouraged by Llobet and others.

Segovia quickly realizes the limitations of the career he has chosen: the repertoire was small and the sound of the guitars was insufficient for a large concert hall. And, worse, there was no respect for the instrument. In Spain at the beginning of the century, the guitar was a thing of the flamencos in the streets and bars, a remarkably similar picture to the circles of streetwise “choro” musicians common in the Lapa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro at the time. It was unthinkable in that environment for the guitar to be considered a serious concert instrument like the violin or the piano. Segovia was continuously advised to change instruments, since he was supposedly “wasting time” by dedicating himself with such zeal to such a demoralized instrument.

What did Segovia do? With great intelligence and vision, he launched the pillars of the modern guitar, seeking to put the guitar on the same level as other instruments. Throughout his life, Segovia never deviated from certain basic principles:

  1. Original repertory: In the absence of works of great classical composers, Segovia encouraged new composers to write pieces for the instrument. From this effort arose Ponce, Tedesco, Torroba, Villa-Lobos and many others. It is important to remember that the most famous works that we know of are only the visible tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of “lost” pieces in Segovia’s library in Madrid that were written for Segovia by dozens of composers and discarded by him. Despite Angelo Gilardino’s marvelous work as curator of the Segovia library in reviving some of these lost pieces, the majority, with few exceptions, are less interesting musical pieces. But the fact is that Segovia needed a repertoire to be able to give concerts and have a professional career, and so this initial gap was bridged.
  2. First-rate instruments: As early as 1912, Segovia acquired the famous Manuel Ramirez that is now displayed in a museum in New York. Throughout his life, Segovia always searched for guitars that allowed him an outlet for his musical ideas, not just an instrument that he could use to play loud and fast. The main luthiers chosen were Hauser, Fleta, and Ramirez. It is worthwhile to note that Segovia played several Hausers over the years, always looking for something more, until establishing himself with the famous Hauser of 1937 that was his travel companion for over 20 years.
  3. Quality transcriptions: Segovia had a basic premise: to transcribe only pieces that would sound better on the guitar than on the original instrument. We can take issue with many transcriptions of doubtful taste to our contemporary ears, but we have to acknowledge that within the Segovian conception they were a coherent part of a whole. Segovia often said that one of the happiest days of his life was when he was given as a present that German book of pieces for lute by Bach, thus enabling the first transcriptions of pieces of suites for lute.
  4. Sound: Segovia always sought a beautiful sound, perfect plucking and vibrato. For him, music meant beautiful sound. Even among the main disciples of Segovia one notes a constant concern with the production of a sweet, velvety sound. Audiences around the world, although unfamiliar with the guitar and its nascent repertoire, were seduced by the marvelous sound of Segovia, especially in the period in which Segovia used the famous Hauser of 1937.
  5. The guitar as a little orchestra: In line with a tradition that in my view started with Tarrega, Segovia always thought about colour and timbre. He believed that the guitar was not just another string instrument, but a little orchestra waiting to be unlocked. In several Segovia recordings and videos one hears metallic echoes of the brass section of the orchestra, alternating with the sweetness of the violin or the deep bass sound of the cello.

Here we could interject a polemical question: could Segovia have encouraged more “modern” composers to write for the guitar, instead of concentrating only on the Spanish and other more romantic and melodious composers? Why didn’t Segovia have Falla write us other pieces? Why didn’t he ask Stravinsky? Why did he shun Martin’s Pieces Bréves? Segovia’s conservative musical taste is frequently criticized and this may be partially true in hindsight, but in all fairness to Segovia we should remember the historical context. In the 1920s and 30s, Segovia’s struggle was to convince the musical world that the guitar merited respect. It was a struggle to have a chance, to be heard. Often times, recital opportunities were fought for tooth and nail, since the concert promoters doubted that the guitar could hold up for an entire concert and even attract the interest of the general public. In Spain at that time, there was total skepticism. Hence, recitals were high risk, on an instrument still in the initial phase of acceptance and with a repertoire of mediocre quality (in comparison to the great classics). If the concert was no good, there probably wouldn’t be a second chance. We should also remember that Segovia was building a new repertoire for him to play and that all that Segovia did, for better or for worse, was always with great conviction.

In this light, the spectacular success of Segovia, especially after the end of World War II, was a practical demonstration that the formula was working: a good repertoire and interesting transcriptions, all very well played and arranged on first-rate instruments with a wonderful sound. Segovia was helped further by the advent in the mid-1940s of nylon strings made by Albert Augustine, which enabled him to increase the projection of the instrument’s sound and perhaps for the first time in history easily tune the guitar during a concert.


The roaring success of Segovia after the war and his innumerous LPs in the 1950s gave rise to a legion of admirers and aficionados, the most noteworthy of whom were Julian Bream and John Williams.

Julian Bream’s appearance was nothing short of spectacular. A great fan of Segovia’s, the young Bream’s initial aspiration was to study with the great master. This almost happened in the 1940s, but Segovia ended up losing interest in “adopting” Bream as a pupil, who was thus forced to develop his own technique and find his own way. Bream also had to face many barriers, starting with the fact that guitar was not taught at the Royal College of Music, which led him to study piano (at that time, he was told not to bring that “thing” in there). Despite the difficulties, Bream persevered, and the fact that he did not have Segovia as a master was ultimately a blessing in disguise.

Bream not only adopted Segovia’s formula, but also “perfected” it and enormously increased the instrument’s musical frontiers. First, he expanded the musical frontier “backward,” by intensely reliving the music of Dowland and other composers of the Elizabethan era. Second, he began to play entire suites of Bach and other baroque composers and not just select pieces of isolated suites (in addition to the first full recording of the Preludes of Villa-Lobos). Third, he expanded the repertoire “forward” by inviting contemporary composers such as Arnold, Henze, Berkeley, Walton, Tippet, Britten, and many others to write for the guitar and by fleeing from the commonplace Spanish and romantic style of the Segovia era. Fourth, by recording with ancient music ensembles, singers, harpsichordists, etc., Bream showed the public a facet of the guitar as an instrument for chamber music. Fifth, Bream made surprising transcriptions, demonstrating unimagined capabilities of the instrument, in a spectrum that ranged from Bach, Scarlatti, Diabelli, Boccherini and Cimarosa to pieces by Debussy and Ravel. It is interesting to note that Bream avoided the Segovia repertoire: to my knowledge he never recorded Ponce and recorded Tedesco only recently, on one of his last CDs for EMI.

In my opinion, after Segovia, Bream was the greatest apostle of the idea of the guitar as a small orchestra. Despite the changes in timbre and often exaggerated nuances, Bream demonstrated new possibilities in timbre and took the guitar-orchestra to a higher plane, in a clear evolution in relation to Segovia. This also reflected on his choice of instrument: like Segovia, Bream always looked for guitars that enabled him to obtain interesting musical results, even if this often meant greater technical effort.

I like to think of Bream always as the hard-working blue collar worker of the guitar, as he had to study very hard to overcome technical deficiencies and physical difficulties. I saw an interview of Bream in 1976 in which he said he had to develop his technique practically all by himself, and that it was a shame he didn’t have someone to teach him how to hold the instrument, technique, etc. In the 1970s, Bream even had to seek medical help for the muscular pain in his hands, which was when he discovered (according to him) that he had learned how to play the guitar the wrong way! In a famous video, Bream shows specific exercises he had to do with his left hand to “relearn” the guitar technique, a kind of physical therapy.  An authentic exercise in humility for someone who at the time was considered by many to be the best guitarist in the world.

The case of John Williams was quite different. Taught initially by his father Len Williams and later adopted as a pupil and oriented by Segovia in his pre-teen years, Williams developed a perfect technique from an early age, playing with an ease and skill never before seen in the history of the instrument. Segovia even did something unheard of: he wrote a letter of presentation for Williams when he was to debut at Wigmore Hall in 1958, calling him the “prince of the guitar” (obviously, Segovia was still king). From the outset of his career, and still clearly under Segovia’s influence, Williams made technically impressive recordings, with records of the Spanish repertoire and a recording of Aranjuez with Ormandy. In the 1960s and 70s, Williams also began to go his own way, recording things such as Partita No. 1 by Dodgson and Concerto No. 1 by Leo Brouwer, in a clear attempt to break with Segovian tradition and to show that his musical ideas had evolved over the years. At that time, Bream/Williams were nearly a duopoly, which was later cemented by their recordings as a duo (“Together” in 1971 and “Together Again” in 1974).

Nonetheless, in contrast with the “classical British” world of Julian Bream, Williams demonstrated a more politicized artistic vein from an early age by recording a protest record with the Greek singer Maria Farandouri and making declarations questioning the Vietnam War, very much in line with his own generation in the 1960s. In addition, maybe motivated by commercial interests and the construction of a “younger” image for the guitar more in line with the 1960s, Williams formed the pop-light group called Sky, recorded with pop singer Cleo Laine and began to play sporadically in jazz clubs in London. In the 1970s, Williams also began to promote the music of Barrios.

In my opinion, Williams was the first great representative of the “grand piano” guitar. Perfect sound, strong, even-tempered, skill, velocity, clarity, etc., Williams displayed surprising technical perfection and inspired countless guitar players to seek similar perfection. I felt that irresistible urge myself as a teenager growing up in the 1970s as a huge Williams fan. But in my opinion, the musical results were more modest than those of Julian Bream. It is true that Williams has a tremendous contribution to the development of the guitar, and he certainly made several important transcriptions (Cordoba de Albeniz, Valses Poeticos by Granados, Baroque music, chamber music, just to name a few) and promoted quite a few composers (Dodgson, Barrios, Brouwer, Takemitsu and many others), but his legacy in terms of repertoire for the guitar unfortunately did not reach anything near the heights of Segovia or Bream.

In my view, the “Williams style” also reflected on his choice of instrument. After many years playing on a Fletas, as of the 1980s Williams began to use “easy-to-play” guitars with a sound that was apparently strong, but of less quality. Many guitarists made a veiled attempt to reinvent the traditional guitar, which was said to no longer meet the current needs of concert players. According to this school, it was necessary to build guitars with great volume of sound that were easy to play (speed above all else!). New guitars appeared with “revolutionary” designs from luthiers such as Humphrey, Gilbert, and Smallman.

It is noteworthy that around the same time Bream took the opposite direction. Mainly as of the 1990s, Julian Bream abandoned his traditional Romanillos and returned to his origins, beginning to record always with a Hauser I that belonged to Rose Augustine. Also around that time Bream recorded a great transcription of Lutoslawski, new pieces from Takemitsu and a new Sonata by Leo Brouwer, in his never-ending quest to expand the repertoire and the musical frontiers of the guitar. In my opinion, the divergent musical choices of Bream and Williams are highly symbolic of the differences that mark both of these great musicians.


The search for technical perfection immediately carried into the following generation, as two great guitarists came onto the scene: Manuel Barrueco and David Russell. Barrueco had an explosive debut in the 1970s with two spectacular records (Villa-Lobos and Albeniz/Granados), while Russell was able to reach greater and well-deserved fame only in the early 1980s.

Although both were exceptional guitarists and had different musical temperaments (and both served as an inspiration to me in my early years), in my opinion Barrueco and Russell have in common the concept of “master” of the guitar played as a grand piano: well-tempered notes, little or no variation in timbre, perfect technique, loud volume, and always using instruments that were “easier” to play. At that time, the Bream style of nuances and timbres began to be seen as something “eccentric,” while Segovia began to be judged outside of his historic context. Based on a few off recordings of Segovia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an entire generation of guitarists began to repudiate the Segovia’s legacy, believing that the old Segovia, with his exaggerated rubati and “imperfect” technique was an outdated Romantic outgrowth.

Despite the reissuance of CDs in the 1990s with former recordings from the 1930s by young Segovia, unfortunately this skewed vision ended up being the predominate one. As the concept of the “grand piano” guitar became more popular, growing numbers of representatives of this current became better equipped, technically, of which Ana Vidovic, with her immense talent, is the most recent example.


If the guitar has never been played with such technical perfection, then why the relative lack of public interest in the classical guitar? In a conversation I had at my debut in London in 1985, John Duarte told me that in the sixties any guitarist would have been able to fill Wigmore Hall, such was the interest in the instrument and popularity of the repertoire. Nowadays, a guitarist will have a hard time filling an entire hall. Even John Williams, with his well-deserved immense popularity, who has always filled venues no matter where he played, now finds it slightly more difficult to fill a concert hall. Why is it that guitarists are increasingly playing only for other guitarists? Are we going back to the starting point?

A few factors have obviously affected classical music as a whole, and not just the guitar. The hyperactivity of modern life, exhaustion after coming home from work, stress (and laziness) of leaving home and going to the concert hall, and the risk of muggings, etc. are just a few of these factors. The lack of musical education at school makes it very difficult to entice a new generation of listeners, and audiences are visibly aging at classical music concerts.

The advent of the CD and the DVD has complicated the situation even more. We should remember that to hear quality sound at the time of Segovia it was necessary to go to the concert hall and hear the artist live. Today, not only is it possible to see and hear most artists with perfect sound without leaving home but entire concerts can also be seen over the Internet, or on YouTube. What’s worse, at home you can hit the pause button and grab a beer. As entire discographies are being downloaded over the Internet and recording companies have lost interest in promoting new classical artists, the difficulties have become insurmountable. Currently, the debate is about what model will arise after the death of the traditional CD bought at stores. Ominously, several books have been written lately about the death of Classical Music.

In sum, the bad news is that the outlook is not bright and should improve only in the long run. The good news is that, except for the outstanding 1960s and 1970s, things have always been tough. Nevertheless, I think the ground is fertile for the appearance of new “poets” who will again change the panorama of the guitar. But for this to happen, in my opinion certain things need to happen:

  1. The original repertoire must continue to expand: Although the guitar repertoire is currently more extense and varied than it was thirty years ago, we continue to play the same pieces with irritating frequency. We have to keep expanding the repertoire’s frontiers and encouraging new composers to write new music for the instrument. It is worthwhile to recall that this was the solution for the piano and the violin 200 years ago: Chopin, Lizst, and Paganini, for example, wrote pieces for themselves to play, thus creating a repertoire for themselves and for others. Actually, I think the solution could be precisely this: other guitarist-composers will follow the example of Brouwer and will start to write more quality pieces.
  2. Focus on the quality of the repertoire, without concessions: We must always strive for maximum quality in the repertoire and flee from the temptation of simplistic trends. There is no use in playing works of unknown fifth-rate composers just to be “different.” Although it is not the ideal situation, it is always better to play a known high-quality piece very well than to try to rescussitate a low-quality piece. Experience tells us that most times these “forgotten” composers (mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries) which are “rediscovered” are merely personal marketing ploys. With rate exceptions, these composers were relegated to oblivion for good reason, and it is better for everyone (artists and the public) that they do remain forgotten. Unfortunately, I still see exceptional guitarists today waste time with such pieces. It is truly a shame. A waste of talent, effort, and time.
  3. Transcriptions, only when they sound better on the guitar: It is really a shame to see that we still waste precious time trying to play extremely difficult transcriptions of pieces eminently made for the piano, such as sonatas by Mozart or pieces of Ernesto Nazareth. My respects to the guitarists (many of them greater instrumentalists) who continue to try to perform these nearly impossible transcriptions, but in this regard Segovia was wise: why transcribe something that sounds better on the original instrument? Why waste precious time on a simple sonata by Mozart that an average pianist can play effortlessly and that on the guitar will always sound “heavy”? We have to break free from a certain inferiority complex, where it seems that we will only feel like respected artists if we are able to play something by the great classical composers. The transcription of Chaconne “stuck” because it sounds good or better on the guitar than on the violin. Same goes for Albeniz and Granados on the guitar in relation to the piano. As for monumental transcriptions of orchestral pieces by Mussorgsky, Dvorak etc., we must be aware that this is seen by our musician colleagues as a big game of poor taste, almost something of a circus. Transcriptions should be meant to enrich the guitar repertoire, not make a joke of it.
  4. Small orchestra vs. grand piano: As with almost everything in life, people always prefer the original. The issue is simple: if you’re going to hear a guitar playing as if it were a grand piano, people will prefer the real thing (the piano). Why waste time with a copy in poor taste? What attracts people to the guitar is the delicateness, velvety sound, color, timbre, vibrato, that is, all the aspects of a string instrument. The guitar is the only string instrument that requires the player to keep both hands in direct contact with the instrument and does not need any assistance to produce the sound. The piano not only has a hammer that hits the string, but also has pedals that help sustain or muffle the sound. The violin and the violoncello have the bow, and even the harp has pedals. Since we have to produce all the sound “without help,” then why not use the instruments to produce many different sounds, instead of monotonously playing the same type of sound all the time? Exploring the small orchestra that lives within each guitar is one of the most gratifying things about being a guitarist. We cannot put this opportunity aside. Let’s leave the piano to the pianists; our focus must be to explore the richness of the guitar as it is.
  5. The choice of instrument is a crucial decision: There is no use in trying to find a small orchestra within the guitar if the chosen instrument is made to sound almost like an electric guitar. If the public wants to hear electric guitar, they should go to a rock concert or a jazz bar. In my opinion, we must find instruments that allow a wide range of sound, both horizontally (sweet and metallic) and vertically (strong and loud). The piano was originally known as “pianoforte” precisely because it allowed pianists to play with different nuances in sound and not just the same type, as with the harpsichord. Despite being an unconditional fan of the Hauser style of lutherie (especially Abreu guitars, which have exceptional quality), I acknowledge that some guitarists can obtain fantastic results with different instruments. I myself played a Fleta for many years. But I do not believe in instruments that do not allow a wide range of sound and timbre. A guitar always played in the same manner sounds like a harpsichord or mandolin. Frankly, I don’t know which is worse.
  6. Let’s think more like musicians and not just like guitarists: Here is a special message to the poets: more than just guitarists, we are musicians! And more than musicians, we are artists, who have chosen the guitar as a means to express our art. We must always seek our more artistic side. We must constantly strive for musical and personal maturity, and we must be prepared to accept that most times this will take an entire life. In my vision, it is this commitment to art that sensitizes the general public. Segovia and Bream were great artists and musicians, while the majority of their contemporaries, with rare exceptions, were just guitarists. Some were exceptional guitarists, it is true, but unfortunately this is the reality. The public worships, venerates, and supports artists, musicians, and musical personalities. Rarely does the general public support instrumentalists without a veritable musicial personality for a long time.

Conclusion: We are at a historic crossroads. There is no use continuing to pursue the formula of the piano. In my opinion, this led to musical regression in the past twenty years and the consequent flight of the general public and return of the guitarists playing for guitarists pattern. It is also useless to try to go back and imitate Segovia’s style of playing. We must tread our own path, which has really been followed since the 1920s by Andrés Segovia and then perfected in the 1960s by Julian Bream. People easily tire of mechanical guitarists with an ugly sound that have nothing original to say. No one wants to keep hearing someone who only knows how to talk fast in the same tone of voice all the time. People want to feel pleasure and become more sensitive when hearing artists, poets, and musicians. The way of the guitar is poetry, beautiful sound, the small orchestra. There is still time to change course.

Born in Brazil in 1964, Marcelo Kayath began studying the guitar at age 13 with Leo Soares and continued with Jodacil Damaceno and Turibio Santos. When only 16 he won the Segovia Prize at the International Villa-Lobos Competition and 2 years later became the only guitarist to win the coveted Young Concert Artists of Brazil Award. In 1984 he won both the 4th Toronto International Guitar Competition and the Paris Councours International de Guitare and the following year embarked on tours (both solo and with orchestra) of Europe and the USA to unanimous critical acclaim. He also attended the Andrés Segovia Master Class at USC in Los Angeles, where he was given special recognition by Andrés Segovia, who acknowledged him as “an already accomplished guitarist and fine musician”. After early retirement from the concert stage, Mr. Kayath finished degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Rio de Janeiro. Despite great success in other career paths besides music he still remains active in the guitar world and has recently produced the following article which was originally presented on Brazilian radio. Mr. Kayath was kind enough to translate this into English and offer it to us for publication.

Comments (133)

Interesting thoughts Mr. Kayath!

But of course they are yours (thanks for sharing). My views are a bit different.

You wrote:
“I think the solution could be precisely this: other guitarist-composers will follow the example of Brouwer and will start to write more quality pieces. ”
Oh please god no! In my opinion Brouwer is not interesting at all. His repertoire is filled with “minor” chords of various adaptions, often based on the open strings…
I think he’s done his part… but to proclaim him as a type of role model is ridiculous. Brouwer is a dead end, and I hope no one will follow that dead end.

Also: I both disagree with your “Grand Piano” observation. Yes, we play a lot like “Grand Piano” today…
but the piano-world is facing exactly the same problems that we are today. Because the piano has the same stale, perfect, boring interpretations, that we are just now beginning to see on the guitar.
The piano has lost it’s soul and so has the guitar. Because when the players are just “players”, what more can you expect.

Kayath: “As for monumental transcriptions of orchestral pieces by Mussorgsky, Dvorak etc., we must be aware that this is seen by our musician colleagues as a big game of poor taste, almost something of a circus. Transcriptions should be meant to enrich the guitar repertoire, not make a joke of it.”

Yes this is so true! 100% !

The Peruvian and the Japanese should form a circus clown duo.

A little reminder:
if the Mussorgsky work you are referring to is Pictures at an Exhibition, it was originally written for the piano. I believe it was Ravel who produced the famous orchestration.

I agree with Marcelo Kyath that we are at a crossroads but it is surely the expressive nature of the piano that has attracted guitarists to a more ‘pianistic’ approach to the guitar, not the wish to sound like one!

An interesting set of perspectives. To be enjoyed and appreciated. What we guitarists lack today is new works. Or possibly recording of new works. I don’t see many guitarists thriving as professionals on the great body of works that date from the 17th century to the 20th century. There are many perfectly good recordings of these. Have a search through YouTube should you doubt me. New interpretations of the old repertoire won’t guarantee classical guitar a thriving future. As for instruments there are those for the eyes and those for the ears and those for the fingers. We search for perfection all in one. Antiques have their place. I prefer the newer instruments, they satisfy all three dimensions.

completely agree!!!! going to a guitar concert, competition or any GFA exibition or gathering is all guitarist with little or no outside audience. is also mostly nothing but a bunch of boring players, segovia wannabies, electric players that now think they are classical players (dont know much), and rich kinds with 10k guitars but absolutely no soul since they never needed one. its very sad what it has turned into. 2 sides: lattice braced vs double top….. what happened to wanting a hauser, bernabe, etc???? thats what he means by piano sound… these guitars sound glassy and bright as well as VERY LOUD but how can you compare their ugly unatractive tone to that of a truly fine guitar thats just not looking to sound loud but instread beaultifull……??????

The classical guitar is long dead and buried.Discerning and discriminating audiences do not wish to waste their valuable time listening to ,or being subjected to ,boring and mechanical competition players who have an ugly monotonous sound with nothing original to say .Harsh I know but guitarists only play music composed by fellow guitarists to an audience of guitarists.The exact situation the great Segovia always seeked to avoid.And modern guitars are nowhere near as fine as traditional guitars .The wheel has been reinvented but is now square. Marcelo Kayath is correct and I thank him but is only confirming what we already know

Segovia said : “You must always respect your audience ” or words to that effect .It is very easy to lose an audience ,but not so easy to get them back .

The guitar is an instrument of suggestion ,and romance .We can not possibly compete with the grand piano nor a full orchestra ,but the guitars has sounds which can be uniquely seductive ,in the hands of the right player of course .But modern trends in playing are : FAST AND LOUD…..FAST AND LOUD….

Guitarists need to choose .Either they choose a LOUD guitar ,or they choose a beautiful sounding guitar. East is east ,and west is west ….

What people did not always realize with John Williams ,for example ,his tone is exquisite and very fine ,in other words he produces a beautiful sound .Also , his phrasing is beautiful and very legato and very musical .This became overlooked because guitarists just seemed to take notice of Williams phenomenal and unmatched technical perfection . But his choice of guitars these past few years leaves me scratching my head in a baffled state.

Guitar playing has also become too safe ,trying to play with no mistakes .True virtuosos are not afraid to take chances and go for it.

Much talk about quality, sorry to say: The world are full of realy fantastic, not to say great works for the guitar. Nobody cares. Nobody plays. Most concerts, competitions cd-es and so one are without realy respectable attacs to the normal concertgoer. Everybody seems to play the same pieces. And the same unknown composers that nobody outside the guitar club never had heard about. Bring a real composer to a guitar concert and he will all to often shake his head. Sometimes with a little friendly smile. Where are people with huge guitar productions like Jolivet, Ruders, Takemitsu, Nørgård, Nørholm, Jørgensen, Nielsen, Nieminen, Halnaes, Bibalo, Brindle and so on! Sorry for the many scandinaviens, that is my world…

The $64 ,000 question is : How many guitarists are really worth listening to for an hour and a half ?? It is one thing to play loud and fast in a guitar competition but another matter to capture and hold an audiences’ attention for an hour and a half . And more importantly , some guitarists may impress their audience but how many can truly move them ??

I have long enjoyed Mr. Kayath’s recording and I especially liked the sound he produced on his Ignacio Fleta guitar The thing that attracts me to music (art in general) is the essence of trying to capturing beauty. There is beauty in the singular note from a fine instrument and in the musical line, phrase and piece itself. In this regard I believe that Mr. Kayath is absolutely correct. Hearing Segovia on stage in the 70’s was a revelation. Imagine me, as a teenager, with a poorly made Japanese guitar, practicing in his bedrrom with fingernails that I clipped with my mother’s clippers trying to sound like Segovia. Not only did his wonderful sound come from his right hand fingers (and wonderful, perfect nails) but his left hand fingers had that gorgeous vibrato. And he used it throughout the evening.
The sound of the guitar is so intimate and it touches one straight to their hearts. Luckily one doesn’t need to play fast and loud (both of which I do poorly) in order to be heard and felt by their audience.
In short, this is a wonderful article written by Mr. Kayath and I thank him for taking the time to publish it.

I agree with everything stated in the article and everything that Lawrence Tendler says. I do hope that a revival can come about, but my doubts grow and grow. This world of guitarists playing to guitarists has got to stop. I think I big problem is that every festival emerges by players who invite people in their circle and then have a competition. The competitions are judged on a points system, which favours the less individual player. For example, if someone plays perfectly, nice phrasing etc, but it is a bit bland, they might get 8-9 out of 10 from every juror. However, if someone takes risks, has a strongly individualistic intepretation etc, then the jury will split, which some giving a slightly higher mark and some giving a low one. When the average is taken, it is quite clear which type of player is favoured and as there are so many competitions, only 1st prizers get the opportunities.

Thank you Maestro Kayath for a true and telling article. I fully agree with its premises and conclusions. If I may suggest, as one who has played guitar seriously for over 25 years and now works as full-time luthier, a path guitarists should be taking to embrace the poetry of their instrument more fully: the repertoire available for voice and guitar. There are thousands of works for voice and lute from the renaissance which work extremely well with guitar replacing lute (despite what “authentic” music zealots might argue). From the vast repertoire of Romantic leider many works can lend themselves to transcription with results exceeding the original format. Clearly opera arias and excerpts, so popular and powerful, poetic and musical, can be a source of great pleasure for performers and audience. Finally, there is a fine, fairly large 20th century repertoire for voice and guitar with many truly outstanding works. Of course, besides the wonder and beauty for audiences of hearing guitar supporting a voice, there is, I believe a definite therapeutic value in revealing poetry and musicality to the guitarist. It’s not easy to get away with humdrum tehnical repetitiveness for long when working with singers. Just as in pop, jazz, blues, ethnic, (all music!) the voice and its song is the starting and ending point. That’s where music really lives. Instrumentalists especially guitarists can only improve ( and find nirvana in the process) as poets and musicians if they perform the voice and guitar repertoire!

I treasure my 1980s recordings of Marcelo Kayath and agree with pretty much everything he says (though my understanding is that Tarrega played with nails most of his life, only abandoning them for the earlier nail-less technique when they became brittle in old age).

The new generation of guitars seem to me to more to blame for current public apathy than the new generation of guitarists. If the young phenomenons did not have their Smallmans but had to play on Kohno, Ramirez, Bernabe, Marin Montero etc ( I mention these simply because they are the guitars I know and love) they might produce something worth listening to: quieter no doubt, but infinitely more musical.

I only heard Segovia live very late in his career when he was to be frank in less than total command of his instrument – but I would not have missed his concerts for the world. Bream has always been THE guitarist for me, and much as I also admire John Williams the last time I heard him live it sounded as if he was playing a much amplified child’s guitar made out of tinplate. How are the mighty fallen!

I also prefer ‘traditional’ guitars, and on this front, all is not lost. Many makers have returned to Torres/Hauser lightly built low resonance guitars, such as Fritz Ober, Gerhard Oldiges, Kevin Aram, Simon Ambridge etc. I myself have started playing a guitar by Jochen Rothel, which is somewhere between a Torres, Hauser and Romanillos. Check out this link if you are interested and I would recommend anyone who wishes for a return to beautiful sounding guitars to check them out:
I recently heard Pavel Steidl perform on a 1929 Simplicio and this was the best live guitar sound I have heard.

Dear Mr. Tendler, I agree with almost all of what you have said and I am very glad to find someone with similar opinions to my own and I try my best to strive for the same ideals as you like. Beauty and risk-taking. On the guitar front, I have started playing a guitar by Jochen Rothel. It seems to me to be somewhere between a Torres, Hauser and Romanillos; very light build and lowish air resonance (about f-f#). You might be interested in these. Not big booming things like the modern designs. Also, I heard Pavel Steidl play recently on a 1929 Simplicio and the sound was magical. Interesting that, in a hall, a guitar with a beautiful focused sound travels just as well as these new Smallman types, but infinitely more beautiful. Here are a couple of links with me playing the Rothel if you are interested:
Best wishes,

Ian Watt

I have read all the opinions above and didn´t see any single time the word LOVE, that´s what Mr. Kayat is telling us about.
His love and respect for our beloved instrument: The Guitar and its music, woods, smell, inspiration, sound and above all, artistry.

We all like to knock Segovia ,but he had the ability ,which spanned more than six decades ,to move ,captivate and enthrall audiences with his artistry .

NIL DESPERANDUM (Do not despair ), not all is lost .But the guitar needs artists who can play beautifully ,not mere robotic clones ,if we are to inspire the general public and to attract a proper and meaningful audience again .It can be done but it is not easy .And guitarists should play more Ponce and Tedesco and Tansman ,not just second rate music by written by certain guitarists ,who shall be nameless.

Disclaimer: I am a dedicated amateur player, not a professional. In general I find the arguments of Mr Kayath ciompelling, and in my limited way am always looking for the beautiful tone or subtle phrasing that will help me make a guitar piece into a moment of music…though I admit that I seldom achieve this goal. I mostly play a 1977 Velazquez and a 2010 Marin Montero, both of which speak to my soul.

I must say, however, that I was surprised at Mr Kayath’s neglecting to mention Eliot Fisk – who is the only guitarist I have heard in concert who engulfs me so completely in a cascading musical experience that I literally forget I am listening to a guitar. He doesn’t just play fast…he plays to his own muse (listen to his recent Bach recordings for incredibly unpredictable, romantic readings…and astonishing tonal variety). And what he does with Scarlatti sonatas is simply breathtaking. Also, perhaps it would not be beside the point to note that he plays very modern yet expressive guitars built by Stephan Connor (innovative fan/latice bracing, raised fretboard, upper bout sound port).

Again, thoughts from an amateur – but perhaps they have a place at the table…

This is a real conundrum, and Kayath makes excellent, well-thought-out points. I was on the solo guitar career path in the late 60s and early 70s, and I discovered a world of insular and unimaginative robots, competitive and snarky know-it-alls who rarely played as well as they talked. I abandoned the solo classical guitar world because I always considered music a social art form, and, to this day, find it far more rewarding to make music with others than in a solo context, although the guitar, with it’s colors and drama and huge repertoire outside the classical world, is still an extremely popular instrument, and people love to hear it played well. Ignoring the jazz and flamenco and Brazilian/Latin genres is not something that I was able to do, but I found a wonderful career performing a wide variety of music, alone and in ensemble, on the “classical” guitar. I concertize with a Devoe flamenco negra, which is a very traditional build, yet somehow manages to cover a lot of tonal and stylistic ground. I also want to champion the use of good, clean, high-quality amplification in situations that need it.

The modern guitarist has access to the highest levels of instruction, the most playable instruments & has reached the highest level of playing at any time in its history yet the QUALITY of modern guitar repertoire is THE WORST IT HAS EVER BEEN. What I cannot believe is that performers repeatedly bring poor art to the concert hall. I have seen countless performers waste their talent on a full concert of modern garbage that leaves the average listener thinking “Gees that if THAT is the classical guitar, I don’t want to see or hear that ever again”. The performer will NEVER hear that at the meet & greet. There is poor quality of music everywhere in our daily lives so when one goes to see “classical” or “art” music I believe they are expecting to experience something that is beautiful & uplifting. They want to experience high quality art & something wonderful. You cant get that with bad musical form, fast random notes, dissonant chords & ugly noise.
This is EXACTLY why we are losing our audience.

2.Focus on the quality of the repertoire, without concessions: We must always strive for maximum quality in the repertoire and flee from the temptation of simplistic trends. There is no use in playing works of unknown fifth-rate composers just to be “different.” Although it is not the ideal situation, it is always better to play a known high-quality piece very well than to try to rescussitate a low-quality piece. Experience tells us that most times these “forgotten” composers (mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries) which are “rediscovered” are merely personal marketing ploys. With rate exceptions, these composers were relegated to oblivion for good reason, and it is better for everyone (artists and the public) that they do remain forgotten. Unfortunately, I still see exceptional guitarists today waste time with such pieces. It is truly a shame. A waste of talent, effort, and time.

There are so many problems with this article and the chief one is how it isolates the Guitar as just a nylon acoustic instrument and only speaks of it in that vein and ignores the guitar and music world at large.
Music and guitars change with the times and the players. There are many guitarists who can fill concert halls who don’t play Classical Guitar. The basic problem with Classical guitar is that a majority play an outdated repertoire or a newer one that sucks…and refuse to explore electronic options. In the past, most famous players played in huge halls where an audience could not hear past the first few rows. I felt terribly cheated after seeing (mostly seeing not hearing well) Bream, Parkening, and Segovia. I vowed never again to pay to see guitar in a large hall without amplification. It does NOT belong there—to hell with that tradition.
I find this article sidestepping the whole subject of amplification. The ONLY person I heard with a good electric nylon sound was Andrew York. Yes, MOST electric nylon sounds HORRIBLE, but York proves it can be done—and it NEEDS to be done to keep the classical guitar alive.
I also sense a prejudice against Parkening here. I’ve had my issues with him myself, but as a young player no one can dispute that he had a HUGE effect on Classical guitar from the beginning of his career.
I’d say though that for me, he’s more of a recording artist than a performer…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Also missing here is any mention of the players who have a grounding in Classical guitar but have moved into the style of Fingerstyle Guitar. These players usually play contemporary music (often self composed) and not the intellectual contemporary crap that Classical players play. If Classical player persist with the atonal and melody free nonsense so many of them learn in music schools then Classical guitar will certainly wither more and more.
If guitarists want to hear what is at the forefront of music on guitar, they need to look past the Segovia and associated Masters; look at Pierre Bensusan, Alex De Grassi, Michael Hedges. For a virtuoso Classical Guitarist who writes original music look at Philip Roshegher. Look into altered tunings…look into MUSIC as a whole large world. Stop thinking as a guitarist and think music as an art from connected to all art. No one wants to listen to Sor and Guliani…really, it had it’s time. R.I.P. things as they were and on to the future.

Oh bullshit!
Modern players are every bit as good as old guard. I see amazing younger players all the time on YouTube. I also have friends who not only can play Classical well, but can play Jazz and improvise..and write. Many of these skills are NOT present in Segovia and his generation.
Classical Guitar is not dead, it’s merely ailing…but will always be with us as a tradition and as a changing art form. Get real and drop the hyperbole.

I enjoyed the article by Mr. Kayath and I enjoyed his opinions and perspectives. I am not a professional musician and never desired to be. Music is a private passion and whether I am playing my flute or my guitar I play what I enjoy. I taught my kids to recognize the difference between music that moves them as oppose to music that makes them move. After all of the analysis, all of the artistic impressions, I believe it still comes down to playing with passion instead of just playing. As long as the passion for the guitar lives in individuals that choose to play it, it will survive and even thrive

I really appreciated this article, Mr Kayath made a good synthesis and has an interesting point of view. But his partiality toward Segovia’s school is a little bit too obvious. I suggest to those who have never heard David Russell to go listen to him. You would be surprised, because following Kayath’s description you would expect a wannabe big piano virtuoso player. and Russell is more an antithesis of it…

I think the actual problem is generalized throughout classical music, and is probably the result of the search for perfection brought by the developtment of the recording technology along with the way we select our next generations of concert players (competitions…).

Agree. Lattice braced guitars (and stuff such as Clarita by Boaz Elkayam) are the guitars fitting for stale perfectionist robot players.

These guitars have only one thing: loud uniformity and – if you understand physics – emphasis on fundamental and low frequency overtones.

But this uniformity or smoothness lacks something: spark!

I don’t think competitions provide any sort of opportunities to the winners. Very occasionally they may, but it’s really about how a winner leverages that qualification to bring in more opportunities.

Bob may be right: no one gives a crap about competitions. Except they do. Not because it means something about the skill of the player, but because a competition is one of the few remaining places where there’s a filter. In a world where everyone can self produce — a world without real filters — experts and bodies that do provide some sort of filter (a competition saying who is good/bad) can mean something. But it really depends on how a performer is able to work that into their image and press kit.

Just some things to think about.

Chris… the problem is simple to spot.

It’s the difference between objective facts, where filters can be used….

And emotional subjective meaning, where filters cannot be used.

The problem is that today’s society (meaning you, me and everybody else) tries to assign objective categorization, to things that inherently cannot be categorized or filtered.

To find a true artist/musican you cannot filter according to technique; or according to how well known he is; or according to view-hits on a youtube video; or according to quality of blogging; or according to… xyz.

The reason is that a true artist/musician must also remain a full complete person and bring together many qualities, which cannot really be filtered.

So to end up: As long as our standards are based on filtering for technique; difficulty, or any other minimalist-patterns… the guitarists will continue to fill that need.
You’ll find the technique guru with stale performances; you’ll find the freak who plays orchestral arrangements. etc etc.


As a duo they could tackle works such as Stockhausen’s “Gruppen for 3 orchestras”, or Cage’s “30 Pieces for 5 Orchestras” !


Kayath: “became better equipped, technically, of which Ana Vidovic, with her immense talent, is the most recent example.”

Have you been living under a rock??
Ever heard of Meng Su, Yameng Wang, Irina Kulikova, Harold Gretton, Gabriel Bianco, etc. etc.

Of course when you say modern guitar repertoire you mean the works of Tarraga, Ponce, Turina, Torobba, Tansman and Barrios; and fifth rate and forgotten composers like Sor, Giuliani, Agaudo, Carcassi and Carulli.

Could you say more about your definition of “traditional”? It seem to me that Torres would not have decscribed any of the guitars Hauser built for Segovia as traditional and what would he say about the Ramirez cedar top guitars in the 60’s? John Williams has been playing a Smallman guitar for some twenty years does this constitute a tradition? Isn’t the guitarist more important to the sound of a guitar that it’s bracing?

The difficultly in defining tradition is why I used inverted commas. Nowadays, most people would regard traditional as a guitar made with wood and which does not seek to provide volume at the expense of beauty and colour. This of course is just my personal view as I like these instuments more than the lattice braced guitars. Although I entirely agree that one should not be prejudiced according to bracing. Of course the guitarist is responsible for the sound, but I don’t think anyone can deny that John Williams’ sound changed dramatically – for better or for worse – when he switched from a Fleta to a Smallman and the difference is much greater than with Bream, whose sound changed very little when he changed between Bouchet, Rubio, Hauser and Romanillos – all very different types of instruments but all made with wood! Also, as far as I can tell, the older instrument designs, ie Hausers, Fletas, Torres etc, seemed to allow much more variation in sound between players. I find that the Smallmans sound much the same with all players.

Enough with playing second rate music by Barrios .Segovia said : “Barrios is NOT a good composer” cruel but correct. Such a pity lovely music by Asencio and Espla ,among many others ,is often neglected by guitarists .Barrios is too cloying and sentimental ,I used to play it a lot. And too much latin american is boring .Villa-lobos ,Chavez ,Ponce wrote wonderful and quality music.

Rubbish. You can go and spam elsewhere.

You are trying to PRESENT YOUR VIEW AS WORLD-TRUTH, which is an inferior trait.
Plus you’re trying to back up your view by quoting someone. Again a sign of an inferior trait, if you need to cite someone else.
Are you afraid of having an own opinion and marking it as such?

So look here lala-boy… Just to show that it aint difficult to quote someone:
John Williams: “As a guitarist/composer, Barrios is the best of the lot, regardless of era. His music is better formed, it’s more poetic, it’s more everything! And it’s more of all those things in a timeless way.”

I have to say, I don’t think Barrios is one of the problems in the guitar repertoire and I agree that one can use a quote in anyway to back up their point. I doubt anyone would claim that Barrios was a great composer, but his music has form, is often quite interesting harmonically and if played well can charm and move people. He was a miniaturist and there is nothing wrong with that! I am a huge Segovia fan and I think the lack of respect shown to him by my generation is disgraceful, but that doesn’t mean I have to adhere to his views on every composer and nor should anyone else. I’m not going to name names, but there is a lot worse music than Barrios being played regularly by guitarists!

There are a few quality Barrios pieces ,his minuet and a prelude in c minor and choro de saudade ,but much of his music is a bit cheesy.

A good friend was at a recent concert by John Williams playing all latin music .After the third piece the audience were shifting uncomfortably in their seats .Williams is the greatest guitarists ,but his choice of repertoire and guitars lately leaves much to be desired.Say what you will about Segovia ,who had his faults ,but he knew from experience which music would work with an audience .The guitar will not be regarded seriously as a serious classical instrument unless guitarists select quality music .Barrios is fine for buskers or for background muzak in a candle-lot restaurant but it is not concert music.

I wouldn’t disagree with anything in this article if the premises was “how to improve on the quality of the guitars repertoire and it’s performance”. However I don’t agree at all that it’s the reason that the classical guitar is not enjoying more success. Whether playing Sor or Britten, a good musician will strive to convey emotions, drama and beauty. And that attracts people. Just like going to the cinema to watch a good movie. People want to be moved both by the dramatic beautiful story and the quality of the craft.

The problem is simply that the knowledge of the classical guitar has not expanded in proportion to the expansion of the internet. In other words, the average guitarist is only concerned with practicing and making music, not marketing. Pop stars don’t just pop up at random. How could they, when so many of them lack anything substantial? They are made. By massive hype. Now the classical guitar will of course appeal to a smaller amount of people, yet every single classical guitar student has likely turned a few people into guitar fans through their life. The truth is that most people have a non existent relationship to classical music and even less the classical guitar. Yet when they are introduced to it, they find it strikingly beautiful and worth listening to; and that is whether it’s played on a Smallman or a Hauser.

In short we should focus on creating an audience, instead of just waiting for it to magically appear – and we can do that with Tarrega, Ponce or Henze for that sake. The only ones who’ll really care about repertoire (assuming it’s all good music of course) are guitarist.

Also I don’t think we should disregard the technical perfection of the younger generation of virtuosos. Half the fun for the general audience is in watching and being mesmerized by captivating movements and strong stage presence. And it has always been that way, even more so back in Segovia’s time. The man created a myth to promote himself!

Of course, this is all my point of view based on my own observations and being perhaps a bit more optimistic that some others.

Also if you doubt that technical perfection and drama, as well as playing fast, loud and beautiful can’t be combined, then you’re missing out on a whole generation of amazing players. Check out Marcin Dylla for instance, just to name a single.

Also, I think that Kazuhito Yamshitas accomplishments with among other things the mussorgsky transcriptions must and can not be disregarded. The man pushed the technical craft to places it had never perviously been before. Now whether or not he improved on the work (musically it is of course not comparable to Ravels orchestration), that doesn’t mean that his audience cared. The man has enjoyed one of the most successful careers of all time – recording more than 100 cds (if my memory serves me well), including Sors collected works, which he – apparently, did not think himself too good to play. (It must be said however as credit to the writer of this article, that he stopped performing his orchestra transcriptions later on in his career for reasons unknown, perhaps because he was unsatisfied with the musical result).

Context???? Barrios is not a good composer in what context? Compared to Bartok, Stravinsky or Copland totally agree. Compared to Tarrega, Ponce or Segovia now you are just splitting hairs. If he is such a bad composer why do people play his music and write books about him? More poetic in what way? Like Shakespeare? Like Cummings? What exercise should I use to be more poetic? If his is so good why don’t more people play his music and write books about him? I don’t think either quote has much value. I am not a big fan of Barrios or Segovia but I still this there are things to be learned from the work they left behind.

Does Mr. Kayath really believe that any guitar transcription sounds better than the original? The performance of the Bach Chaconne works well on the guitar but it is really rather dull in comparison to the original or even one of the piano transcriptions.

“Why waste precious time on a simple sonata by Mozart that an average pianist can play effortlessly and that on the guitar will always sound “heavy” How does this statement not apply equally to Albeniz and Granados?

Sorry, don’t think I can really tell the difference. Not sure when he made the switch so I can’t really compare the two sides directly. From the recordings that I have I would say that improvements in recording technology were a bigger factor than the changing of the guitar. There is also an evolution of style and technique from his earliest recordings to the present. I have never seen Williams live so can’t comment in that area.

I’m not sure about Bream. I will have to do some more listening

Did you mean all wood guitars as opposed to guitars that use wood and composite materials?

What an incredibly interesting discussion. I thank Mr Kayath for starting it and I find it very difficult to disagree with anything he has said.
If I may make this personal I am finding that I myself am engaging in this sort of issue in a direct way. I have played guitar for over 30 years and classical seriously for about 14. In the last 14 years I have had numerous friends to my home and all know I play the guitar and not once have I ever been asked to play. Now I have never known if this was because of an “uneducated public” completely disinterested, A perception that I was no good or complete lack of desire to have any time spent on classical guitar.

I have come now to a point where I am going to experiment. Two comments on here struck me, one about adding voice and the other about listening to DeGrassi and Hedges. I have personally run the gamut of classical and jazz and now find they have been relegated to background music for my reading. Yesterday I picked up a banjo and have now launched off toward ealy American folk music which I find too simplistic to be sustaining but also am engaging Bluegrass which is more virtuosic. Emotionally those seem destined to fulfill me more then has classical guitar which now only fascinates me as a medium for technigue development.
I am also exploring the wide range of acoustic guitar players and finding this quite interesting. I see myself drawn more and more to the steel string in my possession and wonder if I am ready yet to abandon the, for me, large investment I have in the classical guitar or if I can intergrate the instruement into something I may find more fulfilling.
The comment about making music more social also struck as one which resonates with me as I am in the middle of searching for ways to bring people into a communal connection thru my playing. I no longer think that classical guitar can do that since so few of the public seem to be interested.

Thus is this discussion so interesting to me because I think I can read the same level of having reached a fork in the road among ohters as I have in myself.

To GSI I wish you guys would start selling steel strings the way you do classical guitars.

Yes, that is what I meant by wood guitars.

I don’t think it is the recording quality that is the explanation of the difference I mean, although it is true that he started using the Smallman around the time of digital recordings. There just seems to be a more organic sound when he played the Fleta and a more tinny sound with the Smallman. I have only heard him live with the Smallman and I found it to be a very ugly sound, worlds away from the great recording of the Aranjuez with Ormandy!

Anyway, it is good that we all have different views otherwise the world would be a very boring place!

Well I don’t think the truth does hurt. If Barrios was such an awful composer then I would have no problem accepting it. Personally, I hardly play any Barrios as I don’t find it particularly interesting but I don’t think we should write it off because it is ‘a bit cheesy’. Many of the composer’s you have sighted as examples of good guitar composers write music that is more than just ‘a bit cheesy’, especially Moreno Torroba, but that does not make it bad.

Too much atonal rubbish and inferior trash has been inflicted on long suffering audiences who have deserted the classical guitar in droves. The guitar is not an orchestral instrument so will by nature always remain outside the musical mainstream to some degree. Classical guitarists need to be extremely careful with their choice of music ,instrument and approach if they are to woo or attract new audiences .And by comparison to Villa-lobos for example ,Barrios is so inferior.Another thing ,a simple pavan by Luis Milan or a sor study played beautiful can move an audience more than Mussorgsky or a Dvorak symphony.

Just a comment on Mr. Kayath’s comments regarding Bream’s ‘incorrect’ left hand technique. I would say his left hand technique was ‘non-standard.’ Bream appears to pivot on the side of his first finger, or the left part of his hand. He has this in common with BB King, Albert King, and just about every rock guitarist out there. You can impart more ‘action’ on a note in this manner. Although ‘correct’ left hand technique should result in a more stable technical platform, in terms of imparting action on a string, it is limiting. So I would say Bream’s left hand was correct for Bream in achieving the sound he wanted, and part of what makes his sound so unique.

Antonio Jose sonata ,Jose ardevol sonata ,Julian orbon prelude and toccatta ,music by ohana ,scarlatti sonatas . and so much more quality music .Why play Tango in Sky or la ultimo tremolo for the umpteenth time?. Segovia was a snob but he always selected his repertoire and his guitars very carefully. Barrios sounds like restaurant background music.

I think that there is one salient point that Ka​yath is missing:
The rise of interest in the classical guitar coincided with the rise of young people’s interest in the guitar in general. Classical guitar playing, I think, was treated as the apogee of guitar playing.
That mysticism was bound to be deflated. And in many ways it’s a healthy thing.
Classical guitar affectionadoes have really increased. But their numbers can’t keep up with the high number of current guitar performers.
There will be for the foreseeable future a role for classical guitarists, but it will continue to evolve and readjust to market demands.

Robert ,who are you calling boy ?? Many people have insulted me ,and have ended up visiting their Dentists shortly after. I will not give it a rest fool ,I will post as often as I like .

Like I told explained earlier ,Barrios music was second -rate which is why Segovia would not touch it.Go play Barrios to any violinist ,pianist or conductor worth their salt and they would laugh you off the stage .And you should give you candy-assed comments a rest .Save them for your mama.

Barrios is same league as Tarrega? One can not seriously compare a masterpiece like Recuerdos de la alhambra which is timeless and pleases an audience every time ,just ask Pepe Romero ,with sentimental meandering waffle like La Ultima cancion by Barrios ,another tremolo piece.

John Williams is a phenomenal guitarist ,but his choice of guitars /banjos and third rate music suck .Williams was great forty years ago .

Very good article I agree with.
With regard to guitar sound quality John Williams changed from Fleta to Smallman around 1980 at the time of his pop group Sky, sure it was no coincidence.

Most guitarists playing recitals today are guitarists but they are not artists .The difference is an artists can hold and audience in the palm of his hand and leave them wanting more .Yepes was an artist , Segovia and Diaz and Bream and Williams too especially in his youth .Many modern players are boring competition robots playing music not worthy of the concert hall .I have played recitals myself years ago when I played a poor choice of music .Would may perhaps help to increase audiences for classical guitar is variety .Music from Dowland ,Narvaez ,Milan ,Bach ,Mendelsson ,Sor , Granados and Albeniz and the more modern composers.The guitar has some excellent pieces. The non -guitar general public who can go to hear an excellent pianist playing music by Ravel and Debussy and Liszt or a violinist playing Paganini and Bach will not be overly impressed by the music of contemporary guitar composers, I will not mention their names ,nor will they wish to listen to an entire half of a concert comprising Barrios lollipops .One or two Barrios pieces are sufficient in any recital. And an hour of bashing teaspoons and making strange squeaks in an avant-garde programme is guaranteed to drive away an audience for eternity.

Yes, Tarrega and Barrios are in the same league. Tarrega has more importance as a teacher. You can compare the two pieces; phrase structure, harmony, form, technical difficulty all these things and more are about the same. If Recuerdos is such a masterpiece where are the piano and orchestra transcriptions. Have you ever heard the piece performed anywhere but a guitar recital? I think people like these pieces because they are pretty and that is only one of the many criteria to call a work a masterpiece.

Don’t know Mr. Romero personally so you will have to ask him for me.

Guitarists playing in empty concert venues ?? A general non-guitar audience will not tolerate being subjected to inferior performances of inferior music played on inferior instruments .The empty halls are evidence of that.

Regarding John Williams ,he is acting the rebel ,he can afford to and has earned the right to be rebellious .He is rebelling against the old ,somewhat dictatorial ,Segovia domination of the classical guitar . But I would rather follow Segovia ,warts and all ,than Williams with his Lattice guitars .

Way too much reverb on many of his videos though.

And a lot of what he plays seems to fall into the realm of “easy listening” or “adult contemporary” (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”), the kind of music that plays over the speakers when one is shopping for groceries.

Kindgren: “In mylatest videos from around October 2010, I don’t add reverb anymore since I play in rooms with good accoustics.”
(from the News page of Kindgren’s website)

That attests to really good playing! There are no ‘tricks’ involved.

PS: Where do you get your groceries. I’d like to go shopping there as well! 😉

I have just been listening to a recording by a young guitarist who has been awarded in dozens of competitions. I have seldom heard such boring and bland sound and playing.It is one thing to play in competitions ,but to play for an audience requires artistry ,which very few up and coming players /modern players possess. I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to any contemporary player ,and that includes Russell and Barrueco.

I was not suggesting “tricks” were involved, and I was aware that he wasn’t using added reverb in the videos any longer. My comment was that there was “way too much reverb in many of his videos”. There was, and the sound of it didn’t appeal to me.

And he does play a lot of “elevator music” or “background music” (yes, I know he plays Bach and other “serious” music too). There is nothing wrong with that; many people evidently enjoy it and he plays it well. Just not to my taste.

Wow, you sent MANY people to the dentist?
What a tough guy!
More likely a bag of hot air.
Someone doesn’t like your baloney …so you want to knock their teeth out?
And for someone (YOU) who laves multiple posts…accusing others of being Spammers?
And I doubt Barrueco is “going out of HIS way” to hear you…
you are just full of cliches.

Lawrence Tender Foot cites Barrios as being a CHEESY composer…
and then trots out RECUERDOS as a great piece of music!
What a fantasy;
there is almost nothing more cheesy that Recuerdos.

And Tendler;
if you don’t like my comments as much as Robert’s; too bad.
Do I get physical threats now? Gonna get all Ghetto on me?

Dear Bob Giles ,the reason I send folk to the dentist is because I work as a dental agent ,I handle advertising for dentists and doctors among others . I hate violence of all sorts ,I prefer to love rather than to fight and if people wish to disagree with my baloney ,and it is baloney ,that is fine .I have no problem with that .But I should not be insulted unnecessarily ,nor should others. I suffer from hand problems at the moment otherwise I would be out there performing. Mr.Barrueco does not need to see me ,nor I to see him.For me he is the most boring player and if Segovia was around (alive ) he would have a field day with Barrueco .

I have to say I don’t agree with much in the article. The viewpoint of the author is too nostalgic for a past that never was and never will be. His reading of history is reflective of someone who hasn’t kept up with the ongoing process of study and research on the guitar and its history. His view leaves no room for the development of performers, luthiers, or composers. Many of the points that he finds objectionable he lumps into a monolithic group that doesn’t exist – guilt by association. Concert attendance seems to me a weak indicator of the state of the the guitar in the world. His basic idea of tone color is a small part of a large whole not a driving principle. Some of his conclusion are sound but he steeps them in contradictions that weaken their impact.

I don’t know if I agree with all the other points Kayath makes, but good, constantly evolving repertoire is what drives popularity in all music including classical guitar. If the repertoire is stale and old, the audience likely will be too. 🙂 That is, after all, why a “pop” genre exists.

Kindgren is extremely popular because he writes and arranges consistently spectacular melodies (pop classical guitar?). Most of his pieces aren’t huge technical challenges either. I say this because even I can play them. 🙂 Almost every other classical guitarist on Youtube with the notable exception of a few such as Frederic Mesnier, all play the same handful of tired songs with exacting perfection.

Virtuosity is not going to do much good if virtually every decent song on the program is at least 100 years old, if not older. In my humble opinion, the classical guitar is a great instrument caged by a relative dearth of decent composers. This always leads me to ask, why are there so few classical guitarists who write music? Does all that technical zeal kill the creative spark or what? 😉

Really John ?? whatever . Save your insults for your leaders who love to invade and bomb other countries and kill their innocent civilians and then steal their resources. Do you read the newspapers much John ??

Mr. Kayath, I do agree with you. In the 1960s and 1970s, people were eager to hear the guitar. It was new and intriguing at the time. We know a guitarist who become a millionaire by copying Segovia and playing Romance De Amor.

Guitar repertoire could be better. The problem was already discussed by Hector Berlioz. A composer would have problems writing for the guitar without playing it. Our hero, Julian Bream, already proved what Sor and Giuliani can be if one wants to. The first time I heard Julian and John album, the Carulli piece they recorded sounded really good. I played it over and over again.

Well, lute used to be a popular instrument at one time a few hundred years ago. It is not anymore. It is no one’s fault. Guitar is just like that, I guess. Everything changes.

Thank you for sharing. Wish you well, sir.

Marceloo Kayath undoubtedly practices what he preaches.His “segovian” sound is ,in my opinion, one of the finest in the classical guitar world-I have some of his recordings and I am inspired by them on every hearing -which is often! His recording of “Majorca” is a polished jewel as is the Andante from Torroba’s triptico.

I agree with Mr. Kayath on his points about having a beautiful sound and how artistry will captivate an audience.

First off, to me, the most beautiful thing about the classical guitar is its wonderfully nuanced timbre. Players with good tone are capable of making some one the most beautiful sounds in the music world. That is what the guitar has that is special, in my opinion, is its beautiful sound. That’s why, despite its limitations, I am addicted to it. It’s that sound. Its sound has turned me into a tone junky, and its sound is capable of making even seasoned musicians and laymen alike swoon and melt in its presence. On the other hand, in the wrong hands, the classical guitar can have the most unattractive sound imaginable when the player has poor tone. And it’s the player, and not the guitar, that makes a beautiful tone.

I also agree with Mr. Kayath’s point on artistry. Over the years I have been to many recitals, and it has always been the artist/performer that has held me captive and interested and excited. It doesn’t matter the instrument either. I’ve seen some really boring players that had flawless technique, and tone, but were just so boring I wanted to shoot myself after the first four minutes. And these were some world famous guitarist too. But then I have been to recitals were I was bursting out of my skin and seat from excitement.

Guitar is like baseball; it’s really fun to play, but can also be really boring to watch sometimes 🙂

Awesome article though. Sebastian Stenzel makes awesome guitars!!! 🙂 GSI rules, and California is one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, and I can’t wait to practice 🙂

Thank you for the article – I agree with the main thrust of it. It is well informed and well written. It is not a new discussion, however. I realise I am in danger of alienating people but the fact is that the same two discussions – this articles theme and the lack of “great” composers in our instruments history – seem to forever be discussed. It is testament to how much of a “barrio” our instrument exists in – or many feel it exists in.

Shall we – forever more – be contemplating the position of the main players in the pantheon? Are we destined to forever rehash commentaries based on who is best, was Segovia oppressive and a snob, does Bream’s “colour” have a place in post Barrueco/Russell performance …?

Surely the argument is over? Personality and musicality are what matters. Technique interests journalists and other guitarists but without lyricism and something to say – people nod off. That is not just a guitarists concern – it pervades all music. Guitar is no different from any other performance instrument. Would you rather see Bream, Django, Segovia etc perform or any number of winners of the countless Guitar competitions which I read of. What the interesting players brought was brutally strong personality and interpretation. (Allow me Django – even if this is classically focussed – the point is imagination and passion)

The youngsters need to be young. We need their fresh outlook and passion to be free to compose or play whatever people want to hear. Why is it that every competition winner feels the need to bring out the same albums with the same pieces. Other than for comparison. I am drowning in versions of the same dozen pieces. Basically, they produce albums which are “safe”.

If we don’t like new music or none is composed then it is not the end of the world – maybe the interest in solo classical guitar was just a blip and we romanticise it’s “renaissance” (when do others perceive it’s “naissance”?). Maybe it is just not a captivating enough instrument to survive in the intensely judgemental environment of classical music and classical music fans.

A great article Marcelo, that is very much in tune with my own thinking. Thank you.

Today when anybody can use technology to produce intriguing sounds, or use Photoshop to produce beautiful glossy pictures, questions arise such as: What is art? Is everybody an artist?
As a guitarist, teacher and performer I have to keep asking myself “what am I really trying to do?”
Here is my latest take on this:
“An artist is an individual who is very aware and also capable of communicating an intimate point of view through his chosen instrument.”

This implies that when one is performing, one must be keenly aware of one’s audience, its expectations and changeable moods. Also, one must be knowledgeable of the historical context of the music that one is playing, and then use one’s guitar’s to express and communicate the emotions and meaning that one perceives within the music to the listener.

For me an inseparable part of playing guitar is that it generates wholesome mental states and feelings, like joy or deep concentration, whenther I practise alone, or perform in front of others. There is a sense of continuously evolving as a guitarist, a musician and a human being.

A great article Marcelo, that is very much in tune with my own thinking. Thank you.

Today when anybody can use technology to produce intriguing sounds, or use Photoshop to produce beautiful glossy pictures, questions arise such as: What is art? Is everybody an artist?
As a guitarist, teacher and performer I have to keep asking myself “what am I really trying to do?”
Here is my latest take on this:
“An artist is an individual who is very aware and also capable of communicating an intimate point of view through his chosen instrument.”

This implies that when one is performing, one must be keenly aware of one’s audience, its expectations and changeable moods. Also, one must be knowledgeable of the historical context of the music that one is playing, and then use one’s guitar’s to express and communicate the emotions and meaning that one perceives within the music to the listener.

For me an inseparable part of playing guitar is that it generates wholesome mental states and feelings, like joy or deep concentration, whether I practise alone, or perform in front of others. There is a sense of continuously evolving as a guitarist, a musician and a human being.

I have to say I found this superficial and simplistic, and not especially developed from his thoughts when he was a professional player al those years ago.

In our PoMo culturally-relativist aggressively democratised (by which I mean ati-elitist) society, classical music, i.e. mostly-Western art music, is no longer a legitimate aspiration of people with some education who are interested in self-improvement — indeed the notion of self-improvement sounds very Victorian in an age where achieving more “experiences” is the goal. Why spend a thousand hours learning about counterpoint, or art history, or architecture, or whatever it may be, when you can spend a few thousand pounds and go bungee jumping in New Zealand or swimming with dolphins or any other “must-do” visceral experience some Sunday paper’s colour supplement turns into a bucket list.

So therefore fewer organisations or individuals see charitable giving to the arts as beneficial, and schools (as Kayath has said) run away from educating in classical traditions. Classical music does indeed have it bad.

The guitar probably profited in the counter-cultural ’60s & ’70s *because* of its position slightly outside classical music’s canon. It would be interesting to know how many of those myriads seen by Jack Duarte at guitar recitals ever went to see a conventional string quartet, or similar. Now that this population has aging rock musicians and Windham Hill descendants to listen to, they have probably abandoned any interest in “classical” music per se, so the guitar probably has a more truly representative slice of the smaller classical cake.

His appeal for repertoire is empty; what does he recommend? He dismisses all of the Andres Segovia Archive in a few words, and makes no mention at all of the Generation of 1927 for example. Catala & Iznaola’s pioneering work here offers a fruitful alternative to the Spanish-inflected repertoire which Segovia inspired. He does not discuss Gilardino, Bogdanovic, Biberian etc etc, Come on Marcelo give us a clue!

Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It if truth be told used to be a entertainment account it. Glance complicated to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we keep up a correspondence?

Hiya, I am really glad I have found this information. Today bloggers publish only about gossips and internet and this is really frustrating. A good website with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for keeping this web-site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

New repertoire, transcriptions, sound, artistry… all are very important. But we could resurrect Segovia and check all of those boxes, and it wouldn’t make a damn difference. The public just isn’t as interested in classical music as it used to be. What’s worse, the guitar doesn’t share in the centuries-long lineage of other instruments and so has nothing to fall back on. Those other instruments (violin, piano, ect) are only surviving because of their history of having been written for by the most important composers in our history. You can convince me that this isn’t the case when Carnegie Hall produces an entire season without any Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or Brahms. If they can do that and still sell out Stern, I take back everything that I’ve said.

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